Friday 8 November 2019

Butterflies and California Dreamin'

A dismal day today, cold and grey. Just the day to look back to sunnier times and relive my butterfly season, which is surely now over (though I saw a single, surprisingly lively Red Admiral yesterday, and on a sunny morning a week or so ago I totted up three more, plus a late Holly Blue, an even later Small White, and a Comma)...
The season got off to a great start with a February heatwave, the glorious surprise of a Hummingbird Hawk Moth in March, and an unprecedented species count of 16 (not including the moth) by the end of April. Later highlights included Wall butterflies in Derbyshire and beautiful Dark Green Fritillaries on some local downland where I'd never seen them before. A bonanza year for Painted Ladies began for me at the end of June, and went on into early autumn. On a July day near Brookwood I found myself in the company of more Graylings than I've seen since boyhood, and later Chalkhill Blues galore on my favourite Surrey hillside, followed a little later by a few – a very precious few – Silver-Spotted Skippers. Then, out of the blue, the surprise finale of a single Brown Hairstreak at my local nature reserve.
Meanwhile, today's dismal weather has set the Mamas and Papas song California Dreamin' playing persistently in my head. This may seem odd, but remember, the first words of that song are 'All the leaves are brown/And the sky is grey./I've been for a walk/On a winter's day...' It just doesn't sound like a winter song: the lush arrangement, and those joyous vocal harmonies, make it sound like a summer rhapsody, full of Californian sunlight, not the exile's lament it actually is (the exile being a spell in New York in winter). This contrast between the words and the sound of a song is very much a John Phillips trademark, and is apparent throughout his solo album, Wolfking of LA. Consider, for example, this dark number set to an oh so jaunty, upbeat tune –

But, to return to California Dreamin', here is something of a curiosity – the original recording, by Barry (Eve of Destruction) McGuire, with the Mamas and Papas as backing singers, various of the Wrecking Crew behind them, and a rather unfortunate harmonica solo...

Then producer Lou Adler had the bright idea of giving the song back to the Mamas and Papas, with the sweet-voiced Denny Doherty on lead vocal, and Bud Shank's jazzy flute replacing that harmonica. And so a great, great single was born.

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